Tell your team to go to bed.

Sam Wilkinson

Sam Wilkinson


As project managers in a digital product studio, we make our living setting up projects, making them run day-to-day, and – sometimes, if we’re lucky – delivering and closing them too.

It’s that middle part where a project can go on longer than anyone originally expected it to. When this happens, and it becomes clear that you’re further from the finish line than you’d thought, team members can react in different ways.

Some of them might panic and begin to work outside the confines of the process you’ve all invested in up until that point. Some might become defensive or cagey and compromise the good communication practices you’ve been nurturing. Most problematically, some of them might start to gradually extend their working days, sacrificing necessary rest and sleep in the process.

I’ve always been an advocate of a healthy work-life balance and I value it now more than ever. Recently I read Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams; a book about the magic properties of sleep and how it helps us stay healthy, remember things, creatively solve problems, and learn new skills, all while being happier, more honest and more attractive. It was an eye-opener to the false economy of working late as a way to get a project over the line. Productivity, quality and honesty all suffer after just two or three consecutive nights of reduced sleep and very quickly so does the fate of the project.

In May, I became a dad for the first time and instantly lost around 50% of my sleeping privileges. Perhaps reading a book listing the negative long-term mental and physical effects of losing sleep was not a smart decision at the time, but what hit home for me while I was crying in the shower one morning was how quickly a lack of sleep can impact your performance and how this effect can be multiplied for overworked project teams.

I’m not naive enough to suggest that working late offers no rewards. Of course, sometimes a few extra hours at your desk can give you the opportunity to tick off a few jobs that seemed impossible when surrounded by colleagues and clients. But for more long-term objectives, like building and launching a product, your best bet is to find the solutions to your problems elsewhere and tell your team to go to bed.

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